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Europe: France Calls For Larger WEU Role

Erfurt, 18 November 1997 (RFE/RL) - Foreign and Defense Ministers from the 10 full member states of the Western European Union (WEU), along with some from associate member states, gathered today in Erfurt, Germany to discuss the future role of the military body.

Speaking on the second day of the group's regular six-monthly meeting, French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine challenged other member countries to decide whether they take participation in the WEU, which is overshadowed by the NATO military alliance, seriously. Vedrine later stressed that France "strongly favors the assertion of a European identity in security and defense" matters, which he said would strengthen rather than weaken NATO. Observers say France has long regarded the U.S. role in NATO as too dominant and has viewed the WEU as a possible counterweight.

Vedrine called today for the WEU to allow operations without gaining the consent of all members, as current rules require.

All 10 full members of the WEU, which was formed in 1955, are also members of NATO. Another 18 countries, including many from central and eastern Europe, have less then full WEU membership. They include Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia.